Holm’s Horseback Archery Manual, made in correspondence with several of the most knowledgeable mounted archers in the world, is now available. For more information, follow this link.
Your horse is much more your partner in this sport, and hardly can be labeled as just a piece of equipment. Indeed, the horse is the most important part of this sport, and we take care of our horses first, even if it means a scratch run at a competition.
The ideal horse archery mount has a calm disposition and is trained to respond dependably to reinless riding when asked to start, stop, turn and slow down or speed up. It is always wise to keep horses in good physical condition and expose them regularly to sights and sounds they may encounter during horseback archery and other activities.
It does not matter what breed or size the horse, although smoothly gaited horses are easier to shoot from. A horse trained to respond to verbal commands can be an asset as well. A dependable, well-mannered and friendly horse allows the rider to focus on their archery.
The saddle should fit the horse well. In competitions, the horses will be shared among riders and sometimes the saddle will not be an ideal fit for every person. Because a two-point position is often the preferred rider position, ideally, the saddle’s stirrups should be positioned underneath the rider’s center of balance, not slung out in front like many Western saddles. A high cantle is helpful, and a high pommel often preferred as well. Tapaderos are a nice safety feature, too, as they prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup and minimize the possibility of the stirrup getting caught on course fencing.
Examples of saddle types good for mounted archery: Brazilian, Mongolian, Australian.
The reins will be dropped to lay on the horse’s neck or on the saddle, however, methods of keeping the reins there, so they do not go over the horse’s head or tangle in his feet, are a must. Some rules dictate that the reins not ever be tied, other traditions do allow this. Holm has developed an adjustable rein system, now available from BowTack.
Bridles and bits are adapted to the horse’s needs, of course. However, we often use bitless bridles on the CIMAC horses so that if a guest rider has a coarser hand, then the horse’s mouth will not suffer damage, and the horse can also remain in a better mood while hosting that rider.
There are several excellently made bows available for horseback archery, from entry-level to high-end handmade custom bows. “Horse bows” are relatively short, recurve composites with a nock stop and without an arrow shelf, accurate from about seven to sixty-plus meters. Since arrow penetration is not the goal, but being able to shoot dozens of arrows in a day is, choose a bow with a lighter draw weight to save your shoulders.
Mounted archers use either (or both) a Hungarian three-finger or a Mongolian thumb-draw. Both are acceptable, and you will hear pros and cons to both styles. To avoid pinching your fingers if you choose to use the three-finger draw, you will want a slightly longer bow. Find these measurements on the bowyers’ websites from our More Suppliers page.
Use standard arrows to match your bow’s spine weight. These can be wood, aluminum or carbon fiber, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Two, three or four fletchings on each arrow are all acceptable. We use tapered points so they don’t bounce off or unnecessarily tear-up the targets. A minimum of two dozen arrows is a good start, so you can remain mounted to practice more than walk around collecting arrows.
The standard competition targets are 3 to 4-foot (80-120 cm) diameter paper square or round target faces, placed on appropriate dense backings. The targets are at a distance of 7 to 45 meters in the official competitions; and any distance for unofficial competitions.
For practice, your imagination is the limit for constructing targets and creating exercises and games to develop and broaden your skills without boring yourself or your horse.
The big difference here is that a quiver used for horse archery is positioned differently that a quiver for ground archery. There are many styles of quiver competition and for practice — side, hip, belt among them— and most horse archers end up with several for different purposes. Holm has developed several quivers that are somewhat hybrid of many that he has seen and used throughout the world, now available from BowTack. More quivers via our More Suppliers page.
Finger, Hand & Arm Protection
The friction of the bowstring on the drawhand fingers will cause blisters. This can be prevented by simply adhering bandaids or tape to those areas. Or, a variety of styles of leather gloves can be worn. For the thumbdraw, a thumb-ring is a traditional method of protecting the thumb.
Some archers wear bracers (arm guards) to protect that tender skin on the inside of the forearm of the bowhand from getting slapped by the bowstring. If the bow is held exactly correctly on every draw, one will not need this accoutrement, but it does add a layer of protection and, well, yes, it looks cool.
As the arrow is released, the fletching can nick the webbing between the thumb and forefinger on the bowhand. Again, if the hand is positioned just right, this will not happen, but a little piece of tape on your hand in that spot is helpful; some bracers cover not only the forearm but the hand as well to protect from this. Alternatively, you can wrap some tape or put a dab of fletching glue on the leading edge of each feather where it meets the arrow to avoid fletching cuts.
At competitions, many participants dress in the traditional archer’s garb of their native country. Or whatever tradition you want to dress as. Some competitors wear a uniform instead.